Matthew 2:1-12 The Arrival Of The True King

December 31, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 2:1-12

1. Last week we celebrated Christmas. Christmas is the holiday when we celebrate Christ's coming into this world. Christ has already come. The Gospel According To Matthew tells of the coming of Christ as the coming of the true king. The true king has come, who will govern the people and deliver them. The true king, before whom we bow down, surrender ourselves, and entrust ourselves over to him with peaceful minds, the king who brings salvation has come. The work of God's salvation has come along with the arrival of this king. A new age of salvation has begun. We are living in it. Just as [we] celebrated Christmas with great joy, we should live celebrating [our] lives joyfully. -- Because Christ has already come and we can entrust ourselves over to that work of salvation.

2. However, when we read today's passage of scripture, we don't find people there in it who seem to be happy that Christ was born and though the news was told about it. King Herod and the people of Jerusalem are not happy. Instead, they are engrossed in worry. Indeed and not only are they engrossed in worry, Herod starts looking for Christ and even wants to assassinate him. It is only the astrologers who are happy. It appears that the coming of Christ did not necessarily always bring joy and happiness. So who exactly were the people who were filled with joy [at his coming]? What might it be that we need in order to share in the joy of Christ's coming? Today we want to observe these scholars of astrology, [commonly known as the magi].

The Gentiles Were Filled With Joy

3. With that then, the first thing we will take note of is the fact that they were not Jews, they were Gentiles. They were men who had come to visit Jerusalem "from the east." They made inquiry as to "Where is the one who had been born as king of the Jews?," (verse two). The scripture says that Herod had heard this and he "assembled all the nation's chief priests and scribes of the law, and asked them where the messiah will be born," (verse four). Nowadays Christmas is celebrated world wide, but just as the scholars of astrology call him here "the king of the Jews," originally it was the Jews and not the people around the world who were expecting the coming of the messiah - the Christ. The messiah - the Christ was originally expected by the Jews as "the king of the Jews" who would save the Jews. Even the scriptures which speak of the coming of the messiah is not a book that fell down from heaven, but was originally a [collection of] Jewish books. But, today's scripture tells us that when that messiah was born, whom the Jews had been expecting, it was not these Jews per se who had come to visit and seek that messiah, but it was the Gentiles who had come from the east.

4. What's more, they were scholars of astrology. The law of Moses strictly prohibited any kind of divination and incantation (for example, Deuteronomy 18:10ff). Quite naturally then, the Jews considered pagan astrologers as defiled men who did not know the law of God. From the Jews' point of view, these astrologers were a category of people the furthest from salvation. But, the scripture is telling us that it was these very same men indeed who had come to seek the Christ and were filled with the joy that is in Christ.

5. We could make the statement that this was an event symbolical of the mission and the preaching work of Jesus Christ afterwards and the history of the church. When the Christ had initiated the work of his public mission and preaching at about age thirty, it was the tax collectors and the sinners who were despised as defiled persons in Jewish society who had come to Christ and were filled with joy. Furthermore, when the church proclaimed Christ later on, rather than the Jews who were supposed to be expecting the messiah being the ones who had filled the churches it was instead the Gentiles, [the people] who had been considered the furthest from salvation.

6. God's call always extends way beyond our own thinking. We mustn't think in regard to ourselves or about any other person as being beyond the scope of God's salvation, as some write-off to ever being delivered. Even the Gentile astrologers were filled with joy. God did not shut them out of [his] joy. God is not the one who shuts [a person] out from [his] joy. It is us ourselves. It is an issue of human responsibility, a human doing alone. It is a matter of whether we will be like these astrologers or else like Herod.

Those Who Were Seeking The One Worthy Of Worship

7. This is what is written about Herod and the people of Jerusalem. "Upon hearing this, King Herod was engrossed in worry. Even all the people of Jerusalem were the same way," (verse three). Herod was the political ruler. He had a world in a political sense that he himself could rule. But, Herod, since he was not a pure Jew, did not have the support base of the general public. So, he always felt a feeling of impending doom over losing his seat of authority. As a result of that, he executed his own wife out of a mindset wracked with those doubts and fears that beget more fears, and he even executed his very own sons. With Herod like that, upon hearing the rumors of the birth of the messiah, [we] can understand why he became worried; because the coming of the messiah meant the end of the old world that he ruled. In this way then, not having any intentions to bow down before the messiah ever, the coming of the messiah will never bring joy to anyone trying to preserve his or her own old world.

8. Herod wasn't the only one worried. The text says that "All the people of Jerusalem were also in the same condition." It is generally held that what the word "Jerusalem" expresses here is more about the religious system of government in Jewish society rather than a specific place. The representatives of it are the nation's chief priests and scribes of the law which are found in the text right after it.They have the world which they themselves are able to run in the religious sense. But, since to say that the messiah is here is to say that a new turning point has begun by God, it will also signify that the old religious world they had will also meet its end. Their worry was of the same nature as that of Herod's. They did not plan on bowing down before the messiah, and the arrival of the messiah was not a joyous thing for those trying to keep their old world.

9. To seek for salvation is but to to bow before someone greater than yourself, to seek for the powerful workings of that greater one. But, humans don't want to let go of the old world they can control. They don't like to surrender themselves and bow to another. But, when people want to continue to be the rulers and keep their old world, even though the long awaited messiah - the Christ is there whom God has sent, it only becomes grounds for their worries, which threatens the old world.

10. We must keep in mind what kind of persons these astrologers who had come from the east were. In the Oriental world where it was believed that the motions of the stars controlled the destinies of humankind, the astrologers possessed a high standing and controlling power in all that. We see that they were not persons of low rank or foreign to them because after they entered Jerusalem they immediately were able to have an audience with King Herod. But there was something more important to them than keeping their old world. It was that they had found the One worthy of bowing down before in the truest sense and worshipping Him. This very thing was the most important matter of their lives.

11. The offerings they had carried with them were "gold, frankincense, and myrrh." One scholar says that these were the tools of the trade for astrologers. If that is true, then, of course, it would mean that they had offered up before the messiah the old world that they had, the world of astrology. As a matter of fact, when they go back home, they do not enquire of the stars any more, but follow the voice of God and go back. Because they were seeking the One worthy to be worshipped in the way they did, the appearance of the messianic star did not turn out to be cause for worry at all. Instead, it became a cause for their hopes and it became a thing of great joy for them.

They Went On A Practical Journey

12. Furthermore, we ought to observe how that they had left their "native land" and "went on a practical journey." In antiquity in the world of astrology, it looks like they had what we would call a scholarly organization of their own. As stipulated in every single one of their books, they had probably been able to enquire into the messianic star. Also, since many Jews lived in Babylonia, they could have also investigated into the coming messiah as the Jewish king. But they didn't stop with just that. In order to find the messiah and to bow down and worship him for themselves, they got up in a practical way and went on a journey. In front of books we can make investigations. But, to worship we must transport our bodies to a certain place.

13. That said, in the scriptures we find many a story of those who have set out on a practical actual journey. We've heard of Abraham as one of them. We've heard of the Israelites led by Moses as one of them. We've also heard of "The Prodigal Son" among the parables of Jesus. The prodigal son didn't just suffer in that miserable lifestyle of his. "He left from there and went to his father," (Luke 15:20), says the text. A certain Finnish leader in the Eastern Church wrote as follows. "Faith does not come from thinking, but is obtained through practice. Experience, not words and speculation, teaches us God. As long as we don't open the window, the fresh air cannot enter the room. As long as we don't bathe in the sun, our skin will not darken. Even the obtaining of faith is the same way. As the church fathers have said, we cannot get to our goal by just waiting and sitting at leisure." -- Indeed, I do agree with that.

14. When King Herod asked the nation's chief priests and scribes of the law where the messiah would be born, they immediately were ready with the reply, "In Bethlehem," and could give the words from the book of Micah in the Old Testament as the basis for [their reply]. When you check a map, Bethlehem is not that far from Jerusalem. The distance is about ten kilometers at most. They knew the messiah would be born in Bethlehem. They knew that the astrological scholars were trying to get there from that point in time. But, the scribes of the law refused to accompany them. Therefore, they did not share in the joy either.

15. The astrologers had traveled from afar. How difficult it was to travel across the desert two thousand years ago is beyond my imagination. What's more, it must have been quite a long long journey. The story is found next of Herod killing all the boys two years old and under. Why two years old and under? The text has it in verse seven that "Herod called the astrological scribes to himself privately and made certain of the time period in which the star had appeared," and based on that time period he made his decision. It was two years before when the star had appeared. During this two year period, they had kept seeking for [the messiah]. They had spent the majority of it on their long trip. They did not give up. They kept seeking. And at last they met the One worthy of their worship. They had great joy there [in his presence]. Then, after they had shared in that joy, they no longer enquired of the stars, but followed the word of God and went back home. They went back home through another path as per the leading of God.

16. So, these are the men who "were filled with joy" that [we] find in this story. The Christ had already come. [God's] work of salvation had already begun. That news has even been passed on to us Gentiles. God's salvation is broad enough to extend to us. We are right amid God's miraculous work of salvation. In it we can either be like Herod or we can be like those astrological scholars. Oh I pray that the joy that comes from Christ might fill us to overflowing!